A 22-year-old murder suspect charged with the slaying of his Westlake girlfriend slumped at the witness stand Friday in Ventura County Superior Court, slapped the microphone down and confessed that he killed her.
Timothy Velasco testified that he killed Ellen Cleary, 37, of Westlake. But Velasco said he wanted to keep secret a confession he made to police the day of the slaying because he wanted to spare her family the details of her sex life, her substance abuse and her death.
“What I did, I did, and I did it,” Velasco said after taking the witness stand during a hearing that had been called to determine whether to keep earlier grand jury testimony sealed and whether to allow an earlier confession into evidence at trial.
Velasco, of Van Nuys, slit Cleary’s throat with a steak knife, strangled her, then knotted plastic bags over her head to asphyxiate her in her residence on Oct. 4, according to the grand jury records which were ordered unsealed Friday by Judge Steven Z. Perren.
Velasco told investigators he killed Cleary because “he felt that she was tragic, her life was tragic, and he wished to send her to heaven,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol J. Nelson said Friday in an interview.
Velasco testified that he thought the Oct. 4 interview with police would be confidential and would not have talked to them in such detail had he known he was being videotaped.
“It was really nobody’s business except Ellen’s business,” Velasco testified. “I felt like I was talking behind her back, bad about her.”
Deputy Public Defender William McGuffey argued that the Oct. 4 confession in a sheriff’s interview room violated Velasco’s rights against self-incrimination because he did not know detectives were videotaping it.
But Detective Sgt. Thomas Odle testified that he read Velasco his rights several times, although he did not tell him the video camera in the room was running during the confession.
Perren refused to throw out the confession and unsealed the grand jury transcript, which outlines the grim scene detectives found in Cleary’s condominium a few hours after Velasco turned himself in.
Detective Richard Gatling told the grand jury that the living room floor was spattered with blood. A clean steak knife was found sticking in the living room wall, and an identical, bloodied knife was found in the bathroom next to the tub, according to the grand jury transcript.
Cleary’s nude body floated in the tub, her head almost completely submerged and covered with three white plastic bags, which were secured by two more bags knotted around her neck, Gatling told the grand jury.
Velasco told investigators he went to Cleary’s house that morning and found her engaged in a sexual act with Dr. Donald Alan Lee, a Simi Valley cardiologist, Nelson said in a court document. Velasco had just found a job with a small courier service and wanted to share the good news with Cleary, his lover of several years, who was unemployed and living on a trust fund, Nelson said.
Velasco told investigators that Cleary was an alcoholic and had been taking lithium carbonate pills which Lee supplied to her, Nelson said. Lithium carbonate is a chemical used to moderate mood swings in manic-depressive people, although Cleary was not manic-depressive, Nelson said.
Lee said in a brief telephone interview Friday, “I don’t talk about Mrs. Cleary right now. Sorry. Bye-bye,” and hung up. Nelson said she does not know if she will investigate Velasco’s allegations about Lee and the lithium carbonate.
In recounting the events leading to the fatal stabbing, according to Nelson, Velasco told investigators that Lee had quietly left Cleary’s condominium after Velasco arrived. Velasco said that he and Cleary ate the lunch of salmon with green peppercorns which she had planned to eat with the doctor, and then had sex, according to the grand jury transcript.
Velasco told investigators that as Cleary lay nude and face-down on the floor afterward, he came up behind her with a steak knife and cut her throat, trying to find her jugular vein.
Nelson said in her closing statement to the grand jury that Velasco then “manually strangled her, in his words, ‘forever,’ ” and tied the plastic bags over her head to ensure her death.
Dr. Ronald O’Halloran, the assistant Ventura County coroner, told the grand jury that the cuts to Cleary’s neck injured no blood vessels and did not cause her death. Had she not died of manual strangulation, the plastic bags would have caused her to suffocate, O’Halloran ruled.
Velasco then called a friend at Independence High School in Van Nuys, drove to meet her in the school and told her he had killed Cleary, the transcript said. School officials summoned police and took Velasco into custody.
Velasco is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail. A hearing for pretrial motions is scheduled for March 15, 1991.
McGuffey said that, despite Velasco’s confessions to police and the court, he intends to proceed with a trial in hope of a verdict of manslaughter rather than the first-degree murder charge filed by the district attorney.